City set to consider open space funding to conserve Mount Dean Stone corridor

Hikers take in the view from the South Hills Spur. The Missoula City Council will consider spending funding from its 2018 Open Space bond to conserve 350 acres and a trail corridor connecting the spur to the top of Mount Dean Stone. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current fil photo)

Citing the values of open space, members of the Missoula City Council this week placed their unanimous support behind a funding request from Five Valleys Land Trust to conserve a trail corridor on Mount Dean Stone in the city’s South Hills.

The $925,000 ask includes $462,000 from the 2018 Open Space Bond and an equal amount from an estate gift given to the city in 2019 by an anonymous donor.

“This was a long-time resident of the South Hills area that really valued wild and scenic open space around the Missoula Valley,” said Grant Carlton, the city’s open space program manager. “The Dean Stone corridor and the South Hills were specifically mentioned in the intent of that gift. We want to use this Dean Stone corridor as a flagship project.”

The requested funding would enable the city to acquire 350 acres of open space and approximately five miles of new trail extending from the South Hills overlook to the summit of Mount Dean Stone on a pleasant 8% grade.

Eventually, the trail will extend down the south side of the mountain to Miller Creek through 2,500 acres of land currently held by The Natural Conservancy. In its entirety, the project is valued for its connectivity, conservation and protection of wildlife habitat.

“This began in earnest back in 2014, and it’s impossible to quantify the amount of sweat equity that’s gone into this,” Carlton said. “This is a really cool mosaic of open space conservation and recreational opportunities.”

The trail corridor resulted from a complex series of deals struck with as many as seven different property owners. One section of the corridor, just above the South Hills overlook, was platted for a 10-lot subdivision.

Pelah Hoyt, the lands director for Five Valleys, said the developers were ready to move forward with their project when Five Valleys and the city began working on the South Hills Spur. The developers were inspired by the effort and offered Five Valleys the opportunity to acquire their property.

“We saw an opportunity there to enhance the values of the South Hills Spur property,” said Hoyt. “We also saw this opportunity to create this trail corridor and get up to the top of the mountain and connect with these Nature Conservancy lands on the back side.”

The funding request represents the first from Five Valleys from the 2018 Open Space bond. It represents around 36% of the $2.5 million land deal. Five Valleys already has secured $1.2 million from a real estate and trail donation, and $370,000 in other contributions.

“It has taken a lot of different people over a long period of time to put this together,” said council member Amber Sherill, who served as past director of Five Valleys. “This was a big piece of the open space bond campaign in 2018, and it was part of what they voted for when they passed that resoundingly in the city.”

The city’s Parks and Conservation Committee approved the funding request on a unanimous 11-0 vote. A public hearing before the full City Council will take place in early November.

High, Wide and Handsome: Trail corridor up Mount Dean Stone grows South Hills access